A Hard Decision
by Westley Thomas

"I didn’t ask to be born. If I ever find out who my old man is, I’ll kill the bastard."

War, as a fulcrum for drama, has spawned innumerable novels, plays, and movies. The Vietnam War certainly continued that tradition. Oliver Stone’s Platoon and Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter both captured the Oscar for Best Picture. They put forth unflinching looks not only of the horror of war, but also its devastating aftermath on those who participated. Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket took viewers into the brutality of training and the hell of battle. Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now showed how easily war could blossom into full-blown insanity. This introspection of the emotional and physical toll that the Southeast Asian war wrought on individuals continued with Ron Kovic‘s Born On The Fourth of July, Hal Ashby’s Coming Home, and David Rabe’s Streamers.

With such acclaimed predecessors as those above, plus many others not mentioned, it is hard to imagine a work that would break new ground using Vietnam as the pivotal spark for a new examination of war and its traumatic effects. Thomas makes a valiant attempt in A Hard Decision. It is an attempt, perhaps more successful in the trial than in the outcome, for this military veteran who has made a sincere effort to dramatize various forms of calamity that war can visit on both warriors and their loved ones.

The plot is steeped in tragedy and terrible twists of fate. William and Steve are both mistreated prisoners of war. Steve returns to the States at war’s end, but William is thought lost, and his pregnant fiancé, Zera, is told by the military that he has been killed. She miscarries. Steve and Zera later fall in love and marry. She then becomes pregnant with Steve’s child. Sometime later, William miraculously reappears and wants to reclaim his love and restart his life with Zera. Too much has transpired, however, and Zera decides to stay with Steve. William begins to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and is lucky enough to find and fall in love with Margarite, Zera’s good friend and the mother of a young girl from a previous marriage. Oddly, the two families maintain a friendship, and it looks as if life may finally be working out for all of them. Then destiny raises its malevolent head again as Steve is attacked by a gang of young toughs. William rushes to aid his friend who has been stabbed and perhaps mortally wounded. Then he, too, is accosted. Will Steve make it? Will William? What will happen to Zera, Margarite, and the children if their fathers don’t survive? As the narrative unwinds, each of the principals faces multiple hard decisions, hence the title.

The author has chosen to construct his story in the form of a play, actually more of a screen play, with both actors’ direction and scene exposition embedded within consecutive acts. This construction proves both a benefit and a detriment. It allows the writer to make huge leaps forward in time to cover the passing of years and the growth of relationships, but does not supply the needed motivation for changes in characters’ behavior, resulting in rather jarring social situations. Such construction also requires that the dialogue between the players must advance the story as well as making it compelling. It does the former well enough, yet the latter contains stilted lines often lack the ring of real life.

As a recollection of the Vietnam era and the huge interpersonal questions the war raised, Thomas' book is an earnest effort to show the need for perseverance in dealing with the many tragedies that particular war inflicted. Perseverance is a virtue every conflict has required and will continue to do so as long as war exists.

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